“Once Upon A Time” is a fresh look at some of your favorite childhood fairytales, reinvented. The plot’s simple enough: a little boy believes his step mother is the evil queen who previously banished all well-known fairytale characters to our world, a place she claims has no happy endings. No one in the town of Storybrook remembers their true identity or past and they mysteriously can’t leave. His teacher Mary Margaret (Ginnifer Goodwin) is actually Snow White, his therapist Dr. Hopper (Raphael Sbarge) is actually Jiminy Cricket and so on. The real world is the fake world, according to him. It seems like a story too simple to build on, but with the endless supply of fairytale lore to drawn from, it never seems to run out of material.
Overall, the ways the writers tend to reinvent these well-known tales are really interesting and inventive. These aren’t the typical stories you know, but they’re both familiar and surprising enough to keep you engaged. Their particular spin on classics like Snow White and even Red Riding Hood will keep you guessing and entertained.
They also constantly draw interesting parallels between the “real world” and the old “fairytale world,” usually even scene-by-scene. It takes a great deal of careful writing to get this right, and they usually nail it. They also set interesting dichotomies between the fairytale versions of people and so-called real versions of them. This takes skilled acting. So far, I’m extremely impressed with Goodwin’s ability to switch back-in-forth between the fugitive-turned-queen Snow and the everyday school teacher. She doesn’t even seem remotely like the same character at times, because she isn’t supposed to be. Almost every actor on this cast plays two very different personalities, a tactic which makes the villains of this story both very layered and human. In fact, the one who plays the evil Queen Regina, Lana Parrilla, has a surprisingly different real-world personality that has you sympathizing with her at unexpected times.
And then there’s Mr. Gold (Robert Carlyle). He’s one of the most evil characters in fairytale history, and in his world, he’s so far removed from his everyday character that he’s actually very hard to recognize. His mannerisms and voice even completely change between these transformations. This actor is both amazingly versatile and amazingly sympathetic and you like him, evil or not. It also doesn’t hurt that he gets weaved into another fairytale where he’s cast as a more beloved character. I haven’t seen a villain this likable since “Battlestar Galactica”’s Gaius Baltar. He’s a villain you actually root for—sometimes anyway—when his heart is in the right place.
Overall, I definitely recommend this show if you like slightly dark fairytales and an innovative way of telling them.
All of Season one is on Netflix Instant, but you can watch this season’s episodes here.